What in the world should I eat?

There is so much information out there about what we should eat. One thing that we can be certain of, is that there is no single diet that works for everybody and there is no quick fix. And it’s not all about what we eat…how we eat is just as important.  This is why I have put together some guidelines that I commonly recommend to patients. We must remember health is fluid, it is a dynamic, a journey. I don’t know that we ever arrive at the perfect level of health, I think we can always improve.  What improvements can you make today?

We make over 200 food decisions per day…Each time you make a decision on what you eat and drink, you are either taking a step towards or a step away from greater health.

Body Awareness

Being aware of how certain foods affect our body is another way that we can accelerate our health…if we are willing to apply this knowledge.  Eat to fuel your body, and eat to feel good.  Does food ‘A’ leave you feeling energised, flat, nauseous or manic?  Over time, with some attention, you can learn what foods do what to your body and act on this by eating only foods that leave you feeling great.

Mind Awareness

If we can be aware of our thoughts and motivations to eat certain foods we can make a significant difference to our health.  Our body gives us the messages we need to fulfil its needs…it is up to us how we interpret and then act on these messages.  Sometimes, in cases of poor gut health, our body’s messages become hijacked by chemicals released from unbalanced gut bacteria, or to addictions created by excessive sugar in the diet and we may crave foods that are not on our list of included foods.  Also, we can sabotage our health and our progress by making poor food choices that deep down we know are going to damage our body or health and our mind. When you are craving a certain food or about to eat a food that is off your included list, ask yourself ‘Is this serving or damaging my body?’, ‘What are my real deep motivations to eat this food?’

Languaging 

How you talk about food is also crucial to your health.  Reflect for a moment on the differences in your feelings when you look at a food you know affects you adversely that you really miss…how would it feel to say ‘I can’t eat that food’? Compared to ‘I won’t eat that food’? Or ‘I choose not to eat that food’?  Find the languaging that supports you to succeed with your plan, look at what is included, rather than focusing on what is not included.  When you are eating, think about how nutritious and life giving the food is for you and how you are truly serving your body by choosing this food.

Choosing foods

Eat REAL food.  Eat a diet based primarily on a variety of vegetables and saturated fats and secondarily, fruits and fermented foods. Eat foods in their most natural state as possible, avoiding processed foods.  Foods still in their natural form are specifically balanced in their macronutrients (protein, carbs, fats) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and have all the necessary factors to digest and efficiently use their nutrients. Modern processing of food often removes crucial components that assist with the body to processes and use the nutrients adequately.  Minimise, or for greater results, eliminate completely processed foods that are highly hazardous to the human body such as highly processed sugars (especially High Fructose Corn Syrup) and vegetable oils including margarine, canola, soybean, corn, sunflower and safflower oils and genetically modified foods.

Choose organic where you can, especially for the ‘Dirty Dozen‘: apples, celery, sweet bell peppers, peaches, strawberries, nectarines, grapes, spinach, lettuce, cucumbers, blueberries, potatoes.  Testing by the EWG shows these foods as having the highest chemical residues of conventionally-raised fruit and vegetables.  Remember…a non-organic apple is better than a biscuit any day!

Include in each meal:

Vegetables and fruit – eat a rainbow of vegetables with each meal, (including lots of leafy greens), low glycemic fruit (berries), lemon and lime juice and sea vegetables (kelp, dulse).  Minimum or no consumption of starchy vegetables such as potato.  Eating such a high amount of varied colour and type of vegetables will provide us with many vitamins and minerals, as well as antioxidant and antimicrobial properties.  Vegetables are also alkalising to the body and an alkaline body is essential for health.

Beneficial fats (Saturated fats) – Coconut oil and other coconut products, grass fed butter or ghee (clarified butter), avocado, hemp seeds, nuts, seeds.  These fats are essential for our body, making up over 50% of cell membranes, they help our body to use Omega-3, improve immunity, bone health and help to protect the liver.  By soaking and sprouting nuts and seeds before you consume them, you are increasing the availability of the nutrients and reducing the phytates, which can be toxic to the gut.

Clean protein – grass fed meats (organic ideally), especially game meats, beef, wild caught fish, lamb, less chicken.  Organ meats (organic, grass fed) are a great source of essential vitamins and minerals and can be consumed in moderation each week.  Include fish at least 2 servings per week, preferably  tuna or salmon that are wild caught.  Protein is fundamental to the fabric of the body.  It provides the building blocks of muscle tissue and supports you to maintain lean muscle mass and speeds up metabolism.  One of these building blocks is glycine, which, alongside Omega-3s has been linked to blocking the process of chronic inflammation in the body.

Fermented foods – kefir, sauerkraut, kimchee.  These foods can rebalance your gut bacteria, and can help your gut to heal.  A healthy functioning gut is crucial for health.  Our gut helps us absorb the nutrients in the food we eat and with 80% of our immune system located in our gut, a well functioning gut is crucial for immunity.

Sweeteners – raw honey, agave nectar, coconut nectar, maple syrup.  These foods can be used in moderation, a ‘sometimes’ addition, as they can still contribute to blood sugar fluctuations and disruption of gut bacteria by feeding starch loving bacteria and yeast including Candida Albicans, which thrive on sugar.  Most other sweeteners will be more detrimental to our system, especially the more processed sugars and sweeteners.

Foods to experiment with – reduce or avoid – These recommendations do not include grains, particularly gluten containing grains, (gluten containing grains include wheat, spelt, barley, rye, non-gluten containing such as quinoa, oats and rice are less damaging therefore consumed in moderation), dairy, eggs, corn, soy, sugar and caffeine.  These can be toxic foods – foods that can damage the gut lining and contribute to leaky gut syndrome, which can lead to digestive issues, inflammation, autoimmune conditions and many chronic diseases.  For some people, these foods are keeping their body in a cycle of damage, inflammation and pain or discomfort.

An accurate way of knowing if these foods have a detrimental effect on your health is to eliminate one or preferably all of them for 8-12 weeks and then, one by one (with a week or so between each) add them back into your diet and observe how your body responds.  If your body has an adverse reaction, then further investigation is encouraged, as just avoiding them is not solving the problem that you have just uncovered.  An adverse reaction can be a sign that your gut is in need of repair, and for most people, once the gut is fully operational again, they can return to these foods without any problems.  This is simply a signpost telling you that something is not right, that your body is in a state of dis-ease and if left untouched, may deteriorate to disease.

There are alternative flours available.  The link below lists 9 great options to use instead of flour containing gluten.  https://whatswithwheat.com/9-gluten-free-flour-alternatives/

Salt and sea vegetables – Add unrefined salt (Pink Himalayan or Celtic Sea Salt) to your meals and to your water around exercise.  Unrefined salt is rich source of key minerals such as magnesium, calcium and iodine and can regulate blood pressure, electrolyte balance and alkalise the body.  Sea vegetables such as dulse and kelp are packed with minerals, including iodine and selenium and are a daily requirement.  Using a variety of seaweeds with different mineral profiles will provide the full spectrum of benefit, from red to brown to black depending on the depth of the water they grew in.  A great way to get your sea vegetables in each day is to use kelp flakes and add them to your salt, then pinch the mixture onto your food and onto your meals.  If you are on thyroid medication, please note that adding selenium and iodine into your diet may alter your dosage requirements, so please monitor this closely with your GP.

Lemon juice and Apple Cider Vinegar – Before food in the morning, drink minimum 300mL warm water with freshly squeezed lemon juice or Apple Cider Vinegar.  This will support your liver, boost your immunity, promote detoxing and alkalising your body.  You can also add lemon to your water throughout the day.  Lemon juice or ACV can be used as a salad dressing.  Drinking warm or room temperature water is more beneficial for the body than cold water, which can dampen down your digestion.

Bone Broths – Bone broth, made from bones and meat of chicken, beef and or fish are packed with these great factors and they are effectively delivered to the areas of the body that need them the most.  Using bone broths daily is an effective way to give your body joint-strengthening, bone building substances and plenty of minerals (including magnesium and calcium) and nutrients, the natural way.

Portion sizes and timing

Eat enough to sustain you for 5 hours. Eat three times per day and fast for 12 hours overnight. If a meal is well balanced with all essential components, it will sustain you for this time.  To create this balance, in each meal include good quality protein, beneficial fats, vegetables, fermented food, seaweed and salt.  For example 1/5 protein, 4/5 vegetables.   This break between meals allows your body to digest the food fully and to maintain blood sugar levels. Grazing on food continually places stress on the digestive system, affecting your body’s ability to break down and use the nutrients.

Liquids with food

Water consumption with a meal can be dependant on the properties of the food in the meal.  If your meal is high in fluid filled foods such as salad then less or no water is indicated.  For a meal that is roasted and not very water rich then a small amount of water may be supportive for digestion.  If you are not sure, less is better, as too much liquid in the stomach when digesting food can dilute our own digestive enzymes, slowing the process.

Blood sugar levels

Maintaining blood sugar levels is important for many aspects of health. To support this, avoid processed foods, genetically modified foods (especially wheat, corn and soy), gluten containing foods (including processed foods that are gluten-free), diary (unless its fermented, some people can tolerate raw milk and diary products and fermented diary products where the lactose has been removed by the fermentation process), starches (rice, pasta, potato) and sugars.  Add cinnamon to your foods, especially where natural or processed sugars are present, as this will help to regulate blood sugar levels.  Make sure you use true cinnamon, true (Ceylon) cinnamon rather than cassia cinnamon.  To ensure you are using the health giving version, look down the stick and you will see multiple layers of a thinner bark, distinct from cassia cinnamon that has thicker bark and only one layer.  These sticks can be ground in a coffee grinder or Thermomix to create powder.

Stress and our nervous system

The Autonomic Nervous System runs our body, and is divided into the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) and the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS).  The (SNS), is the fight or flight, excitatory, survival side of our nervous system, and the PNS, supports rest, relaxation, digest, repair.  When the parasympathetic system is dominant, we are relaxed, we have full digestive function, assimilation and calorie burning capacity.  We have natural appetite regulation and therefore time to digest, assimilate and burn calories.  When we are sympathetic system dominant we are under a stress response, causing blood to rush to the arms and legs so we can fight (defend ourselves) or flight (run away), creating reduced blood flow to the digestive system to digest our food, therefore digestion assimilation is impaired.

Stress (real or imagined) and poor sleep make effects of poor diet more significant on the body.  It is all cumulative.

There are many different types of stress that can be placed on our systems, not just mental stress and worry.  Other types of stress includes:

  • Movement – not moving enough or exercising too intensely
  • Diet – not eating enough, blood sugar imbalances
  • Inflammation – from infection, poor diet, poor sleep, poor gut health
  • Mental – worry, busyness
  • Sleep – not enough or poor quality – make sure you get enough sleep…if you are sleep deprived tonight, studies show that tomorrow you will be more hungry and less active, and that is not healthy.

As you can see, many of these things are interrelated, a useful question for most of us is ‘What is activating my SNS and what can I do to change each of these?’

How we eat

One way of improving the balance in the nervous system and improving digestion is by being mindful of the process of eating, as it is crucial to how we digest food.  Allow time to take in the colours, textures and presentation of the food you are eating.  Take 5-10 deep breaths before you eat.  This can improve oxygenation to the process of digestion.  Create a routine or a ritual for your eating, it may be sitting down and sharing about your day, or sitting by yourself on a deck in the sunshine or out in nature.  Sit down while you eat, eat with presence and chew until the food is liquid, this will all support your digestion.

Our changing needs

Your way of eating can change and mould as your nutritional needs change throughout your life.  It is important to understand that there is no one eating plan that is perfect for everyone, and none of us are perfect.  Strip back to the basics…Begin with a real food plan.  Find something that works for you.  When you are comfortable on this, experiment a little and see how your body responds.  In times of increased stress, pregnancy, athletic performance etc. your needs will change and it is important to accommodate this.

Context

Finding a way of eating that suits your body, provides you with energy and clarity is a worthy goal.  It is crucial for your long term success that you choose a process you can maintain long term.  Making gradual changes and being consistent with each one is paramount to sticking to a healthy way of eating.    The moment you feel you are off track with your eating is the moment of choice to get back to it.  It is also important to be relaxed and flexible with your eating plan, look at using a 90:10 type rule, where 90% of what you eat is within your program and 10% is about fluctuating from this and enjoying the foods you may be missing.  Depending on the presence of food sensitivities or health issues, some may need 100:0 or 95:5 ratio compared to someone who is functioning optimally who may be able to tolerate 80:20. Experiment to feel what works best for you and has you thriving. Some people choose a day a week or a meal a week that is a ‘free meal’, find what works best for you.

It is important to enjoy the food you are eating, preparing it with care and attention and eating it with care and attention, appreciating the nutrition that the food is providing your body to maintain maximal function and health…so that you can get the most out of your life. Are you thriving…or just surviving? What you fuel your body with may be the difference. If you have any questions, or would like specific advice on your eating, please contact us on 07) 3208 8308 or book instantly online.

Check out other articles in this series packed with simple and practical ways to improve the 6 foundations of your health, including – clean water, fresh air, sunshine, movement, sleep and fresh food.

Written by Dr. Jess Harvey B.Sc. (Anat, Phys), B.Ap.Sci (Comp. Med.), Ma Osteo., Registered Osteopath and Director of Head 2 Toe Health, a multidisciplinary clinic in Brisbane also providing Acupuncture, Massage, Life Coaching and Counselling – where we aim to get you as well as possible, as fast as possible, permanently. We believe in a thorough approach to restoring and maintaining health and address many aspects of our lifestyles that can contribute to pain, stiffness, dis-ease and disease. For any further information, please contact us on info@head2toehealth.com.au or 07) 3208 8308.

This information is intended as a general guide only and is not specific for any particular condition or situation.  Please consult with your healthcare practitioner before starting a nutritional program.

Further reading:

http://www.changinghabits.com.au/Default.aspx?CCID=19308&FID=105163&ExcludeBoolFalse=True&ID=/search-results
http://terrywahls.com/about-the-wahls-protocol/ AND https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KLjgBLwH3Wc
http://www.westonaprice.org/?s=fats&submit=Search

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